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Open Access Highly Accessed Research article

Vestibular effects on cerebral blood flow

Jorge M Serrador15*, Todd T Schlegel2, F Owen Black3 and Scott J Wood24

Author Affiliations

1 Harvard Medical School, Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center, Boston, MA, USA

2 NASA Johnson Space Center, Houston, TX, USA

3 Neurotology Research, Legacy Health System, Portland, OR, USA

4 Universities Space Research Association, Houston, TX, USA

5 National University of Ireland Galway, Galway, Ireland

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BMC Neuroscience 2009, 10:119  doi:10.1186/1471-2202-10-119

Published: 23 September 2009



Humans demonstrate a number of unique adaptations that allow for the maintenance of blood pressure and brain blood flow when upright. While several physiological systems, including cerebral autoregulation, are involved in this adaptation the unique role the vestibular system plays in helping to maintain brain blood flow is just beginning to be elucidated. In this study, we tested the hypothesis that stimulation of the vestibular system, specifically the otoliths organs, would result in changes in cerebral blood flow.


To test our hypothesis, we stimulated the vestibular organs of 25 healthy subjects by pitch tilt (stimulates both canals and otoliths) and by translation on a centrifuge (stimulates otoliths and not the canals) at five frequencies: 0.5, 0.25, 0.125 and 0.0625 Hz for 80 sec and 0.03125 Hz for 160 sec. Changes in cerebral flow velocity (by transcranial Doppler) and blood pressure (by Finapres) were similar during both stimuli and dependent on frequency of stimulation (P < 0.01). However, changes in cerebral blood flow were in opposition to changes in blood pressure and not fully dependent on changes in end tidal CO2.


The experimental results support our hypothesis and provide evidence that activation of the vestibular apparatus, specifically the otolith organs, directly affects cerebral blood flow regulation, independent of blood pressure and end tidal CO2 changes.